On last night’s Celebrity Big Brother, scenes were shown in which actor Christopher Biggins was told to leave the house on the basis that he had “made a number of comments capable of causing great offence to housemates and the viewing public” and “Big Brother does not tolerate offensive language capable of causing widespread offence”.
The question is, if Big Brother doesn’t tolerate it, why is it broadcasting it?
I am not for one second excusing the behaviour or remarks, or those of housemates removed in previous series, what I am doing is questioning how Big Brother deals with such situations. The fact that a number a people have been removed over the years should tell us something in itself; if Big Brother is so concerned about such incidents arising, why are they not vetting housemates for their potential to cause such offence in advance? I think we all know the answer to that.
Each episode of the programme warns us in advance and after each ad break about the offence that may be caused to us if we are to continue watching. This, I have concluded, is not actually a warning, it’s an advertisement. Big Brother is in the business of shocking viewers and selling us the salacious which, yes, includes potentially offensive behaviour and remarks.
Big Brother may wish for us to think that the manner in which they have handled the Biggins situation gives them the moral high ground, and that, for all the controversial content they show, there is a line which they will not cross and they are to be applauded and commended for this. Perhaps this is something they feel the need to do to assure the viewer they’re not wholly depraved. But their actions with regard to Biggins shows that their reaction to controversy which they feel merits the removal of someone from the house is in fact Big Brother at its worst.
Why? Because they used the comments that were made to fuel ratings and generate publicity, and they chose to broadcast them, thus negating their apparent intolerance of them. They created suspense by issuing a scant statement via Emma Willis during Friday’s live eviction, that viewers would have to wait until the highlights show the following night, Saturday, to see what happened. On Saturday, the actual scenes were preceded by preview clips in the usual fashion, despite the supposed seriousness of this particular incident. In other words, with the exception of the removal, there was no difference between the manner in which Big Brother chose to portray what happened here, and other objectionable behaviour which hasn’t resulted in the removal of anyone from the house.
I’ve always felt that Andy Millman’s piece to the Celebrity Big Brother camera in the finale of Ricky Gervais’ and Stephen Merchant’s Extras (2007) was one of the most powerful speeches I’d seen on television, and this extract shows how apt it remains almost ten years on.
….fuck you, the makers of this show, as well. You can’t wash your hands of this, you can’t keep going, ‘it’s exploitation but it’s what the public want.’ No. The Victorian freakshow never went away. Now it’s called Big Brother or X-Factor…. And fuck you for watching this at home. Shame on you. And shame on me.
This is arguably the worst series of Celebrity Big Brother to date. The premium it places on the promotion of deplorable behaviour from several housemates, its inconsistency in dealing with it, its use of this material to draw in viewers, and its attempt at the same time to somehow distance itself from it, and set itself above it all is grotesque.
After a few uneasy years, it’s time for the programme and I to part ways permanently.
Big Brother, it’s not me, it’s you.
By Emma Hynes